Pearl Harbor and Bridge City, both war zones
“I still don’t know today how I didn’t get shot,” said 88-year-old Cedric Stout of Bridge City. He was speaking of the day he survived the attack on Pearl Harbor, 67 years ago this week. On Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941, what started with breakfast and killing time ended hours later with 2,402 dead, 1,282 wounded and massive destruction.
Stout and William Stephenson of Vidor may be the only two surviving Pearl Harbor veterans left in Orange County.
Stephenson was 18 at the time of the attack. Stationed on a light cruiser, the USS Honolulu, Stephenson held three different stations that day. He, like Stout, was also eating breakfast when general quarters (GQ) was sounded as the attack began. Stephenson started out in the ‘powder room’ (today it would be called the magazine room) until a bomb blew a hole in the side of the ship and scattered the ammo everywhere. “It didn’t explode, or I wouldn’t be here,” he said.
“Next, we were ordered to go topside. They were asking for volunteers to man anti-aircraft guns. None of us had ever done that before, so I said I’d do it.” After being shown how to shoot the weapon, they fired several shots. “We didn’t down any planes,” he said. As low as they were flying, he said, it would have had to be a direct hit.
Assigned to the USS Utah, Stout was killing time looking out the porthole after breakfast. “I saw all the commotion going on and thought, somebody’s having some fun. But then a bullet went phew, right over the top of my head and I knew it wasn’t no fun!”
he said. “Almost immediately, torpedoes struck the port side of the ship and the superior officers were telling everyone to abandon ship, so I made it topside as quickly as possible. At the hatch, I saw my shipmates being cut down as soon as they got up there, so I held back.”
Stephenson said, “My third station was on the mast as lookout for planes.”
From the crow’s nest, he could see marines or the army come around the shoreline surrounding the harbor with fire power.
“When it became apparent that the Utah was going to roll over,”
said Stout, “we decided our chances were better dodging bullets than staying aboard to drown. We ran to the ropes that held the Utah at dock, slid down to the mooring, made our way to the island and scrambled for cover.”
Stout said one of his buddies who had run in the other direction became trapped in the ship’s bough when it overturned. He had a metal pipe he would hit against the ship to let people know he was there. He did that for seven days before being found when someone heard the banging. A hole was cut out of the hull to set him free, dehydrated, but alive.
Still in the crow’s nest aboard the Honolulu, Stephenson said, “We were told that night to keep a close eye, close to dark.” They thought the Japanese might launch another attack. He was told United States planes would circle first and that is how they could tell them from the enemy. “Some came straight in and were shot at, downing a couple. They were ours,” he said.
After the battle, Stephenson was so tired, he crawled in his berth with his oily clothes still on.
Stout said that when the attacks were over, they pulled five midget submarines out of the water and the hatches were welded shut. “They were ‘suicide subs’ he said.
It was difficult for either veteran to determine how long the battle lasted. It came in waves according to Stephenson.
The Honolulu didn’t sink and fought several battles after that. “It sailed to Australia and beat MacArthur there.” Stephenson was always on the mast after that day, until he was assigned to another ship where he became a radio operator for the rest of the war.
Stephenson’s son, Marcus, said he had to do an essay in the ninth grade on Pearl Harbor. “The only thing I could get out of dad was, ‘All we could do was man our stations,’ it affected him in ways we will never know. He has always been such a humble man.
Fast forward to today.
The Stouts are still fighting a battle, this time the enemy was Hurricane Ike. The battle is a bureaucracy of red tape.
“Pearl Harbor was a disaster. A lot of people were killed. [Ike] was as bad, just not the kills,” said Stout.
He had thought about staying through the storm, but his kids wouldn’t have it. “They kept pounding,” he said. His wife of eight years, Cherry, regrets leaving their new car behind. They had no idea what they were going to come home to.
The Stouts spent the first week after the storm in Natchez, Miss., and the next week in Alabama. “I think they were trying to keep us away so we couldn’t see the mess,” said Mrs. Stout. “He’s got some fantastic kids,” she said.
Several of Stout’s nine children, Shirley and husband Ed Harmes, Janine and husband, Gary, Daniel and wife Tammy Stout, Darlene and husband, Johnny Montagne and Janet and husband, Steve Johnson did the clean-up and tear-out of the home while they kept their parents away. “They wouldn’t hardly let us do anything,” said Mrs. Stout.
“I think if we had seen it, we probably would have just left and never come back,” Mrs. Stout said.
“We just saw all the piles at the road,” said Mr. Stout. “There was a big pile of mud on the side.”
They moved into a FEMA trailer next to their home almost a month ago. The Stouts give credit to Harmes, Stout’s daughter that lives in Georgetown, for making her way through all the red tape to make it possible. She was relentless according to the Stouts.
Harmes had been there since day one, just recently leaving to go on a much needed trip.
Mrs. Stout’s son, Frank Tiller has come from Daytona, Fla. to help with the rebuilding. Having replaced the insulation in the home, they’re waiting on sheetrock installers now. Completion of the repairs is expected after the first of the year. Mrs. Stout said it’s OK if it takes longer; now they are in the mobile home from FEMA.
Much akin to a war zone, there are casualties from Hurricane Ike as well. “I know people who stayed; they’re traumatized,” said Mrs. Stout.
All of Stout’s memorabilia and pictures from his military service were also casualties of the storm, except one full length picture in uniform. “That’s the only one we were able to save,” said his wife.
Unlike Stout, Stephenson fared better. “We had more damage in Rita,” he said. During Ike, the house lost a few shingles, but not enough to cause a leak.
Now 85, Stephenson lives in a comfortable home on Burt in Vidor with his wife Ovis, enjoying life and grandkids.
An interesting bit of irony revealed by Stephenson was that, “My retirement is paid by the Japanese,” who now own Bridgestone Firestone.